Witch hazel is a large shrub that can grow up to 20 feet tall and that may have multiple branching trunks. It is not related to the hazelnut (which is genus Corylus) despite a resemblance that may account for the shared name. In comparison to the hazelnut, witch hazel’s culinary applications are severely limited. The big problem is the tannins and gallic acids that it contains, which give it an intensely bitter and astringent flavor.
Aside from the fact that witch hazel’s taste is unpleasant, most physicians recommend against the internal use of the plant because it is potentially hazardous to health if you fail to consume it in moderation. If you do consume witch hazel, it is best to do so in small doses and only under the guidance of an experienced herbalist. It can cause liver problems along with nausea and vomiting.
While decoctions of witch hazel for topical applications are typically made with the bark of the shrub, those meant for internal consumption are made with the leaves or twigs. Witch hazel leaves have no aroma, which means the tea has none either.
The earliest known use of the witch hazel plant for making tea came from Native Americans, who introduced the plant and its many applications to arriving Europeans. Because of its flavor, witch hazel tea is mostly consumed only for health reasons even though some claim to find it refreshing.
You can make witch hazel tea by pouring boiling water over the dry leaves or twigs, or a combination of the two. Use enough water to cover the leaves and let them sit to steep for at least 10 minutes. The dosage you will take varies depending on the ailment you are trying to treat. To get some of the same benefits without steeping the leaves, some herbalists recommend chewing on green witch hazel leaves.
Witch hazel tea has been used as a mild sedative and as a treatment for internal bleeding. It is sometimes also used as a remedy for and bowel ailments. It may also be a way to get relief from a sore throat or mouth ulcers.
Native Americans in the Iroquois tribe made tea with dried witch hazel leaves that they sweetened this tea with maple syrup. They also used witch hazel tea to treat coughs and colds as well as dysentery.
Some modern-day practitioners of herbal medicine recommend adding with hazel leaves or twigs to regular green or black tea to improve the flavor. You can sweeten the blend with honey to get an even better flavor.
Aside from the tea, the only other parts of the witch hazel plant considered edible are its seeds. The seeds have a shiny black outer shell that encases what some claim to be an edible, oily kernel. According to some reports, Native Americans regularly consumed witch hazel seeds.
Their flavor profile is said to be nutty and similar to that of pistachios (pistachio is one of the alternative names for the witch hazel plant, though it is unrelated to the pistachio tree). Note that some sources question the veracity of this claim since there is only one historical source for it. One of witch hazel’s nicknames is snapping hazel, for the sound made by the seed pods as they explode to disperse the seeds.